This is Part 2 of 2 in my blog about our Grand Tour of Europe. In Part 1, I covered the first six days of our trip, vising Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris. In this post, I cover the last six days of the trip, covering Interlaken, Venice, Pisa and Rome.
Day 7: Meiringen and Jungfrau
0900: On our first day in Switzerland, we took a trip to Meiringen in the morning to see the famous Reichenbach falls. Reichenbach falls was made famous by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his Sherlock Holmes story, The Final Problem. Myself (and my whole family) are big fans of the Sherlock Holmes novels, so we had been looking forward to this part of the trip. We took the train from Interlaken West to Meiringen. It is about a 20 minute walk from the station to the Reichenbach funicular.
The funicular takes you to the best viewing point for Reichenbach falls. I visited the falls 3 years ago in early May. What I found was a ferocious waterfall. You can read all about it here. As it was late summer the waterfall was thinner, but nevertheless impressive. You can also see the white star, which marks the location where professor Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes had their final engagement.
If you are up for a bit of the climb, you can go further up to the place where the falls start. I would highly recommend it.
1200: We had finished visiting Reichenbach by mid-day, so we decided to visit Jungfrau in the afternoon. We reserved tickets online. We took the train from Interlaken West to Lauterbrunnen, then from Lauterbrunnen to Kleine Scheidegg, and then from Kleine Scheidegg to Jungfraujoch. On the upto Jungfraujoch, you get some fabolous views. I did this same trip 3 years ago and wrote a detailed account here.
Jungfraujoch is located 500m below the peak of Jungfrau. There is a whole tourist complex built on the mini valley between the peaks of Jungfrau and the Monch. There is a cinema, viewing terrace, ice palace, several restaurants and souvenir shops and a high altitude alpine research station.
The “Sphinx” viewing terrace provides spectacular views of the Alestch glacier and many other mountain ranges,. There is also the opportunity to go out into the snow and experience winter sports or take a walk on the snow and take closer look at glacier.
Day 8: Visit to the Matterhorn
0900: On day 8, we decided to visit the famous Matterhorn. The starting point for the Matterhorn was Zermatt, which was a 2 hour journey from Interlaken. Zermatt is a small and very pretty town at the foot of the Matterhorn. And you get great views of the famous mountain from the village.
1100: Arrived in Zermatt. To explore the Matterhorn from Zermatt, you have two choices. You can take the railway upto Gornergrat or the cable car up to Kliene Matterhorn. As we took the train up to Jungfrau yesterday, we went for the cable car options. You can buy tickets at the tourist office at Zermatt station.
Cable car station is about a 20 minute walk from Zermatt station to the edge of the town. Here you can get on to a cable car, which will take you from Zermatt to Trockner Steg. These are small cable cars that are continously running, so there is no waiting and the there is one car per group.
From Zermatt to Trockner Steg, you get great view of the Village and the valley below.
At Trockner Steg, you disembark and get on the larger cable car to Kleiner Matterhorn. This runs every fifteen minutes. The ride is a sharp climb over the glaciers. At 3,8893 meters, Kleiner Matterhorn is the highest cable car station in Europe. The ride from Zermatt to Kleiner Matterhorn takes about 1 hour in total. The views make the trip very worthwhile.
1300: The glacier paradise on Kleiner Matterhorn is a far cry from Top of Europe at Jungfrajoch, but the scenery is great. It is a popular spot for summer skiing, and from the viewing terrace, you can see the mountains of France, Italy and Switzerland.
There is also an Ice Palace which carved into the glacier. Here you can see many ice sculptures, sit on an ice throne, and event take a look at a real glacier crevasse. There is also a mini cinema which plays features about the mountain range, its flora and fauna.
1500: Heading back down to Zermatt.
1600: After a few more photos around Zermatt, we decided to call it a day and head back to Interlaken.
Day 9: From Switzerland to Italy
0700: Sadly, uur time in Switzerland was at an end. On day 9, we travelled from Interlaken to Venice. The first leg of the trip was a short hop from Interlaken to Venice.
0805: From Spiez, we board the train to Milan. At Domodossola, the Swiss officers in the train changed to Italian.
1037: Arrived in Milano Central station. Station is very busy.
1145: Boarded the train to the train to Venice. The journey from Switzerland to Venice is interesting, but doesn’t have a same level of scenery we have seen in the previous couple of days. But the trip take us past the beautiful Lake Maggiore.
1400: After a 7 hour journey, we arrived in Venice. I must admit that Venice is not one of my favourite cities. I last visited it in 2009 August, and found it to be crumbling, over crowded and expensive. (I included it in the itinerary as no trip to Europe would be complete without a trip to Venice).
On this visit 9 years later, found Venice to be very similar, still crumbling, slightly less crowded. But I knew what to expect, so I wasn’t disappointed. We spent the afternoon exploring the labyrinth of streets and canals of Venice, and taking in the major sites like Ponte Rialto and the St Marco Piazza.
Where to Stay: In Venice, we stayed at Antiche Figure hotel, which was fantastic. Any of Venice’s shortcomings were entirely made up for by the hotel. Located right across the grand canal from the Santa Lucia station. it is a great place to stay and the staff are very helpful and friendly. It is well worth paying extra from a room with a view of the grand canal, as you can watch the boats and people go past late into the night.
Day 10: Venice to Rome via Pisa
0725: After one night in Venice, we caught an early train. It was Day 10, arguably the toughest day of the trip so far. We were heading to Pisa and then onto Rome. You can book tickets here.
0930: Arrived in Florence Santa Maria Novella station and at 0953 boarded the local train to Pisa. Unlike all the trains on the journey do far, the train from Florence to Pisa had no reserved seats as it was a local train.
1103: Arrived it Pisa Central station. We stowed our luggage at Pisa station and started to walk to the Cathedral Square, where the Leaning Tower of Pisa is located. From Pisa Central station, it is a 25 minute walk.
1130: At the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I had seen many photos of it, but nothing compares to seeing it in the flesh, so to speak.
Construction began in the 12th century. After the construction of 2 floors, the tower began to tilt, due to the ground underneath shifting. Construction was halted for 100 years (due to the wars and other turmoil as well as the uneven ground). This allowed time for the underlying soil to settle. Construction restarted in 1272. In an effort to compensate for the tilt, the engineers built upper floors with one side taller than the other. The tower was finally completed in 1372. The tower continued to tilt, until an extensive restoration programme in the 1990s.
We also took a quick look at the Pisa Cathedral and the Baptistery behind the tower. I’m not sure if it was me, but I could swear that the Baptistery also had a bit of a tilt to it.
1330: After spending a couple of hours at the Cathedral Square, we decided to head back.
1450: Caught the train to Rome from Pisa. It being a Friday afternoon, the train was really busy.
1800: Arrived in Roma Termini and took a taxi from Roma Termini to our home for the next two nights.
Where to stay: Our home in Rome was the Principessa al Pantheon. A 1 bedroom apartment, located in the heart of the city, 2 minute walk to the Pantheon. The apartment is beautiful and clean and very quiet. The host Sara is lovely and very helpful.
Day 11: The Vatican
0900: The penultimate day of our trip was reserved for visiting the Vatican. We walked from our flat near the Pantheon to the Vatican. On the way we got these great views of the Vatican over the river Tiber.
0930: We knew the being a Saturday, the Vatican museums were going to be busy, so I had reserved tickets to visit Vatican museums early in the morning. You can reserve tickets here.
Entrance to the Vatican museum is at the North gate of the Vatican. There are a lot of ticket touts here, many of them pretending to be officials and asking to see your tickets/reservations and telling you where to go. If you don’t have a pre-reserved ticket, they will almost certainly try to sell you one of the group tours. The Vatican officials are in blue uniforms at the entrance to the museum. If you have pre-reserved tickets, the queues are much shorter, so I would highly recommend doing this.
The Vatican museums hold many treasures, and like the Louvre, you need a to spend a week here to see everything. We also paid for an audio guide, which we felt was worth having. Therefore it is a good idea to read up a bit before hand to decide what your “must sees” are. I found this article to be really helpful.
The Sistine Chapel is of course the major attraction within the Vatican museums, but there are no photos allowed in the chapel. Below are a few pictures of some of the other exhibits where photos were allowed:
The double helix stair-case, which is the exit from the Vatican.
Gallery of Statues:
The Gallery of Maps:
Paintings – Vatican is home to an incredible 9 miles of paintings. The “School of Athens” is one of the most famous paintings by Raphael.
1430: After the Vatican museum, we headed to St Peter’s Basilica. There was about a 15 minute queue to enter, which wasn’t too bad.
The inside of the Basilica, the largest in the World, was amazing.
1545: We spent about an hour inside the Basilica, marvelling at the architecture. I tried the audio guide, but I have to say that it wasn’t really worth it. After finishing inside the Cathedral we decided to climb to the top of the top of St Peters’s. It costs 10 Euros to get the elevator up and stairs down. The elevator takes you to the whispering gallery of the dome of the St Peters Basilica.
From the gallery, it is another 304 steps further up to the pinnacle through cramped stairways. Views are quite amazing and one of a kind.
View of St Peter’s Square from the roof.
Vatican Gardens and Papal Apartments
Back of the statues on top of the Cathedral
1700: We decided to walk back via the banks of the river Tiber.
1730: On the way we stopped at Piazza Novana
1900: Our last stop of the day was the Trevi fountain, which was very busy.
Day 12: Last Day – The Pantheon, Colosseum and the Palatine Hill
0900: Early morning, we headed to the Pantheon, which was only a 2 minute walk. The Pantheon is free to enter. Built in 125 AD, the Pantheon is nearly 2000 years old. It was built as a Roman Temple and today is a church. The Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.
1030: After the Pantheon we walked across to the Colosseum, past the World War II monument in Rome.
1115: At the Colosseum. I had booked tickets for a 1130 guided tour. First we had to collect our tickets at the ticket office. Next go through the security queue.
The Colosseum was built around AD 80 by the emperor of the Flavian dynasty. It can hold between 50,000 to 80,000 spectators, and the entrances/exits allow the stadium to be completely emptied within 15 minutes. Although I had visited the Colosseum before, I learnt several new facts on this trip, such as the elaborate underground mechanisms and that many animals were hunted to extinction because of exhibitions in the Colosseum.
1300: Visit to the Palatine Hill. The Palatine Hill is the centre-most of the Seven Hills of Rome and is one of the most ancient parts of the city. It is located next to the Roman Forum, several dozen meters above it. Palatine Hill was home to Imperial palaces in ancient Rome. Today you can see the the remaining ruins of the houses of several key Roman figures – Augusts, Livia, Octavia etc. The palaces are multi-story buildings with courtyards inlaid with mosaics.
1430: Step down from the Palatine Hill to the Roman Forum. Here you can see the Temple of Apollo, The Roman Senate, the House of Vestals etc.
Tip: If you have a couple of days, I would recommend getting a SUPER ticket. This gives you access to the Colosseum, the Platine Hill and Roman Forum and several museums nearby. The palatine hill and the Roman Forum does not have that many.
1530: Back to the apartment to pack up our things for the journey home.
1600: On our way to the airport. That was the end of our Grand tour of Europe.